The Scent of Memory

I recently wrote about the nose and how smells evoke memory. In our ocularcentric age, the sense of smell gets sorely undervalued. Scents process more slowly than sights. But it is the nose that most often evokes powerful and concrete memories, even bad ones.

I was struck by this fact again while listening to a recent interview with Bill Cosby accuser and former guest star on “The Cosby Show,” Lili Bernard. She recounted her attendance in the latest trial, and her poise in Cosby’s presence. “Being in a courtroom with a rapist was difficult but at the same time I felt empowered,” she said confidently. “When Bill Cosby passed by me, within inches, I was really pleased in that my heart didn’t quiver, my breathing didn’t become short. When he passed by me I looked at him with disdain as if he were disempowered. Being just inches away from him, where I could literally put my hand out and touch him, and not feel my heart quicken, and not to begin to hyperventilate, and be able to stand firm and not even feel afraid — for me it was a really empowering moment of healing.”

“But his odor,” she transitioned, as her voice broke. “Oh, shoot I’m going to cry.” She does. “Every time he passed by me in that courthouse, I smelled the tobacco. I smelled his sweat. I smelled his cologne. And that took me right back, because I remember the smell.”

An Age Without Scents

“The Song of Quoodle” is a rhyme by a dog (written by G. K. Chesterton). Really it’s a short lament that of all the wonders of the smellable world, we humans miss out. “They haven’t got no noses,” Quoodle opens, “The fallen sons of Eve / Even the smell of roses / Is not what they supposes” (Works 10.2, 477).

Alas, it’s true. The human sense of smell is dull, a sense we don’t cultivate with much attention. In fact, most of our entertainment is detached from the nose. Even our best novelists, the rare few writers who can put words to the human experience, mostly ignore the smells of storytelling.

We haven’t got no noses, and this is especially true in the age of the eye, an observation of philosopher Byung-Chul Han in The Scent of Time: A Philosophical Essay on the Art of Lingering (Polity, 2017). There he compares optics and olfaction as a contrast of two ways of living: atomized time and eschatological time.

It’s one long essay on the sense of smell — a sense of lingering, a sense deeply connected to creation, community, covenant, our past, and our memory (see Gen. 27:27; Lev. 26:31). In comparison, 200 digital images can flash before our eyes in a minute. But smells don’t work the same way. Smells are immune from acceleration. You cannot enjoy 20 consecutive smells in one minute. Aromas cannot be scaled and accelerated like digital images get scaled and accelerated. Thus, in an age of acceleration, images overrun the senses and smells are ignored.

“A scent is slow,” writes Han. “Thus, as a medium, it is not adapted to the age of haste. Scents cannot be presented in as fast a sequence as optical images. In contrast to the latter, they can also not be accelerated. A society dominated by scents would probably not develop any inclinations towards change or acceleration. It would live off its recollections and its memory, off those things that are slow and long-lasting. The age of haste, by contrast, is a ‘cinematographic’ age, one that is to a large extent shaped by the visual. Such an age accelerates the world into a ‘cinematograph film of . . . things’ [Proust]. Time disintegrates into a mere sequence of present moments. The age of haste is an age without scents” (46).

We should all stop and smell the roses, and the stopping is the necessary point by which we can begin to smell. To smell is to linger. We cannot smell until we stop. We cannot smell until we see that some created beauties are immune to acceleration. This is one non-negotiable to enjoying the fragrances of the Creator, wonders more obvious to lesser beasts.

Free Study Guide for 12 Ways

This summer, my book, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, was released (Crossway). It has been received well in the States, and seven international publishers are currently working on translations (Dutch, French, Italian, Malayalam, Polish, Portuguese, and Spanish).

Part of my encouragement comes from the many parents who are using the book in their family devotions, and many pastors who are using the book in family discipleship and teen training contexts. I wrote the book as a tool to equip parents and pastors, those Christians on the front lines in a new awakening to the cataclysmic personal and spiritual changes in the wake of the digital age. In turn, those parents and pastors are strategically positioned to get the book into the hands of the youth and teens of the iGen, and for this I am deeply grateful.

Today I received a copy of the following family discussion guide, written by pastor Chip Cowsert. He serves as the director of student ministries at the historic First Presbyterian Church of Meridian in Mississippi.

I’m posting the guide here with his permission, and with the prayer that it will serve other parents and leaders. Feel free to copy and paste and adapt it to serve your needs.


Family Discussion Guide:
12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You

The following questions are based off Tony Reinke’s book, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You. I am challenging each family in our student ministry to put this family discussion guide to work! There are a few open-ended questions and a passage of Scripture for each topic.

A few ways this resource could be used:

1. Work through one topic each week as a family devotion.
2. Pick a few questions to ask and discuss at the dinner table.
3. Buy the book, read along, and ask your family these questions.

Introduction and Chapter 1 — We Are Addicted to Distraction

What is technology? (Share your own definitions, but feel free to look one up.)

What are some good ways technology can be used? What are some harmful ways that technology can be used?

What are some ways that technology (phones, letters, cars, etc.) can improve our relationships?

What are some ways that technology can detract from our relationships?

What are your favorite things to do with smartphones?

We check our smartphones 81,500 times each year, or about every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives. Do you think that’s too much, too little, or about right? Why?

Why do you most often check your phone? Read Psalm 109:2–13.

How do smartphones resemble the hand-carved idols of ancient people?

Chapter 2 — We Ignore Our Own Flesh and Blood

46 of 50 states have outlawed texting and driving. Why do you think that people still do it? How does this practice show a disregard for the people physically closest to us?

Read John 1:14, John 6:51, and 1 Corinthians 15:42–43. In what ways does the Bible speak highly of our physical bodies?

Read 2 John 1:12. Do you think that spending time with someone in person is even better than communicating via technology? Why or why not?

How might our phones prevent us from interacting with the people around us?

Jesus came in the flesh, and commanded us to meet together, to eat the Lord’s Supper, and to be baptized with water. Why do you think that God calls for so much of the Christian life to be done with our bodies?

How might smartphones cause us to ignore our bodies?

Chapter 3 — We Crave Immediate Approval

What are some ways that a teenage girl might seek approval on Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram?

What are some ways that a teenage boy might try to gain approval on Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram?

Does life online feel socially safer than real life? Why or why not?

Do you feel more comfortable knocking or someone’s door or sending them a text? Why?

What are some awkward, boring, or uncomfortable “real life” environments for you? How might these environments be good for you?

Are people more comfortable arguing online or in person? Why do you think that is?

Do you ever find yourself trying to impress people online? How? (This might be a topic for parents to model vulnerability and confession!)

How does knowing Jesus address our deep need for approval? Can you think of (or look up) any verses that address this?

Read Isaiah 43:1–2. How does knowing Jesus reduce our social anxiety?

Chapter 4 — We Lose Our Literacy

What is the best book you’ve ever read? What did you like about it?

Christians, on average, read slightly more books per year than the general population. Why do you think that is?

A fairly large number of Christian smartphone users are beginning to read more books, but more commonly, smartphone users are reading fewer books than ever. Why do you think phones may help some people to read more, but others to read less?

In this chapter, Reinke claims that “by seeking trivial pleasure in our phones, we train ourselves to want more of those trivial pleasures.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

Reinke also argues that reading on our phones is training us to skim quickly (a good skill), but that we may be losing our ability to concentrate on a text or a story. Why might these habits be detrimental to our spiritual health?

As a family, read Psalm 1. What do you think it means to “meditate on the law of the Lord day and night”? What does God promise for those who do?

Chapter 5 — We Feed on the Produced

What celebrities do you like to read, watch, or learn about? What makes them so interesting?

Would it make you uncomfortable to have a really fun day, in a really cool place, and not be able to post a picture of it online? Why or why not?

In this chapter, the author argues that our desire to photograph our most powerful experiences may dull the actual experience and our memory of it. (In other words, we miss out on the depth of an event when we’re busy photographing it.) Do you agree with this? Why or why not?

In this chapter, the author also argues that when we obsess over capturing moments, we are subtly believing that we may never be this close to glory again. How might a Christian worldview challenge that belief?

On the nine-month anniversary of her social media sobriety (from Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter), the author’s wife said, “Compulsive social media habits are a bad trade: your present moment in exchange for an endless series of someone else’s past moments.” What do you think she meant by this? Do you agree?

Read Psalm 19:1. What is one way that you could enjoy God’s creation (without your phone) this week? Ask God to help you see his glory in creation this week.

Chapter 6 — We Become What We “Like”

What is something that a lot of guys in your group of friends wear (a brand, a style)?

What is something that a lot of girls wear?

Why do you think we dress like so many of our friends? Who is someone that you’d like to be more like?

Inevitably, when we worship someone (or find them worthy) we will become like them. By worshiping dead idols, we become spiritually dead. By worshipping trivial comforts, we become trivial (and maybe comfortable). In what ways do you think your phone might be changing you?

Read Isaiah 44:9–20. What are some things (maybe even good things) in your life that may compete with God for the ultimate love of your heart? (Mom and Dad may have to model and explain this.)

If life is about more than what goes on in our smartphones, then how might we practice “digital repentance” in your life? (Some possible examples: Having a ‘no-phone’ Bible reading time on your schedule, going back to a flip phone, deleting a certain app, removing push notifications on your email, only checking email twice a day, having a drawer in your house that your phone goes in during “family hours.”)

Chapter 7 — We Get Lonely

What are some ways that technological advance has worked to isolate us? (For example, the fireplace where families used to gather gave way to central heat; milk delivery replaced by refrigeration, etc.)

Smartphones make for easy social shields. We don’t have to talk in elevators, on buses, or even to our closest friends when we don’t feel like it. How might this be detrimental to our growth as human beings?

Smartphones make it easy for us to “feel connected,” even when we’re by ourselves. How might the absence of regular times of true solitude affect our emotional, intellectual, relational, and spiritual lives?

Read Psalm 46:10.

Why is it important for Christians to spend time in quiet, isolated communion with God? How does this benefit us?

John Piper identified three “candy motives” and three “avoidance motives” that act as lures to checking our smartphones during times of solitude.

1. Novelty candy — we want to know what’s new in the world and among our friends. We don’t want to miss out.
2. Ego Candy — we want to know what people are saying about us and how they are responding to things we’ve said and posted.
3. Entertainment Candy — we want to be fascinated, impressed, weirded out, or shocked.
4. Boredom Avoidance — we want to put off the day ahead, especially if it’s boring or routine.
5. Responsibility Avoidance — we want to put off the burdens of the roles God has called us to as fathers, mothers, employees, bosses, and students.
6. Hardship Avoidance — we want to put off dealing with relational conflicts or the pain, disease, and disabilities of our bodies.

Which of these attractions to smartphones are you most prone to? What are some spiritual truths that could help you gain freedom from that attraction? (Parents, this is a great chance to share gospel truths with your kids. The only way to defeat a desire is to replace it with a more satisfying desire!)

Chapter 8 — We Get Comfortable in Secret Vices

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:3–5.

How does a love for Jesus transform us?

What sins in your life are made more easily accessible by your smartphone? Read Mathew 5:27–28.

In this verse, Jesus challenges us to fight our sin, even if the sin is more comfortable to us than the fight. Have you ever considered radical measures to fight secret sin in your life?

Are there any steps that you could take to fight your sinful habits? Confessing them to a parent? Giving up your smartphone? Giving your parents access to your social media? Keeping your smartphone out of your room? Read Hebrews 12:1-2.

This verse invites us to “look to Jesus” as we run our race. How does looking to Jesus help us “set aside the sin which clings so closely”?

Two questions for self-reflection:

1. Am I safeguarding myself from smartphone sin and practicing smartphone self-denial?
2. Am I simultaneously seeking to satisfy my heart with divine glory, even if it is (for now) invisible?

Chapter 9 — We Lose Meaning

The average output of email and social-media text is estimated at 3.6 trillion words, or about thirty-six million books — typed out every day! How do you think this constant flow is affecting the value of these words to us?

“Neomania” is an addiction to anything that is new within the last five minutes. What are some ways that smartphones produce neomania? In what ways does this cost us?

Read Lamentations 3:22.

Do you think an unhealthy desire to stay current could prevent us from experiencing the timelessness of God? Why or why not?

Read Job 28:1–11 and list the accomplishments of technology that you see. Read Job 28:12–28 and discuss the limitations of technology.

Pray that God would fill your family with great and godly purposes.

Chapter 10 — We Fear Missing Out

Check out this new entry in the Oxford English Dictionary: “FOMO—Fear of missing out, anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.”

Now ask this question. “Why does social media seem to be increasing our FOMO”? Why does it hurt so much to feel left out?

Why does it feel so good to flaunt our fun experiences online?

How realistic are the “personas” of the people you follow online? Why? Why could Adam and Eve’s first sin be described as FOMO?

Read Hebrews 4:1 and note that there is one kind of FOMO that God wants us to have (the fear of missing out on eternal rest). Now read Hebrews 3:12–19 and list what actions and habits should accompany this fear.

How does knowing Christ remove the fear of missing out (FOMO) on eternal life?

Chapter 11 — We Become Harsh to One Another

Read Matthew 15:15–20. How should this passage shape the way we think about online disagreements?

Describe a time when something you saw online made you angry.

Why do you think there are so many harsh comments online? Do you think that people are just as harsh in person? Why or why not?

How does James 4:11–12 govern the dirt that we have on other people? What would be some good questions to ask ourselves before posting?

How does a relationship with Jesus transform us into kinder, patient, more optimistic, and more loving people?

Chapter 12 — We Lose Our Place in Time

Read Ecclesiastes 3:1–8 and imagine trying to emotionally engage each of those occasions at once. How deeply can we possibly feel multiple emotions at the same time? Do you ever feel numb as you scroll through tragic news, great accomplishments, trivial jokes, and meaningless updates?

Read Ephesians 5:15–18. What are some things that you’d like to spend more time on? What’s keeping you from doing so?

What are some of the times in Scripture that we are called to “remember”? How could life in the digital age make it difficult to remember what God has done in the past and what he has promised to do in the future?

Do you think it’s a good idea to use several hours each month browsing? Do you think you’re entitled to this time? How does the idea that you’ve been bought with a price affect the way you view your time? Does it?



The Human Machine?

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, 307–308.

Every age has its special evils. Human beings are (among many other things, of course) cruel, rapacious, jealous, violent, self-interested, and egomaniacal, and they can contrive to make nearly anything — any set of alleged values, any vision of the good, any collection of abstract principles — an occasion for oppression, murder, plunder, or simple malice.

In the modern age, however, many of the worst political, juridical, and social evils have arisen from our cultural predisposition to regard organic life as a kind of machinery, and to treat human nature as a kind of technology — biological, genetic, psychological, social, political, economic. This is only to be expected.

If one looks at human beings as essentially machines, then one will regard any perceived flaws in their operations as malfunctions in need of correction. There can, at any rate, be no rationally compelling moral objection to undertaking repairs. In fact, the machine may need to be redesigned altogether if it is to function as we think it ought.

The desire to heal a body or a soul can lead to horrendous abuses, obviously, especially when exploited by powerful institutions (religious or secular) to enlarge their control of others; but it is also, ideally, a desire that can be confined to sane ethical limits by a certain salutary dread: a tremulous reluctance to offend against the sanctity and integrity of nature, a fear of trespassing upon some inviolable precinct of the soul that belongs to God or the gods.

This is not true of the desire to fix a machine. In the realm of technology, there is neither sanctity nor mystery but only proper or improper function. Hence certain distinctively modern contributions to the history of human cruelty: ‘scientific’ racism, Social Darwinism, the eugenics movement, criminological theories about inherited degeneracy, ‘curative’ lobotomies, mandatory sterilizations, and so on — and, in the fullness of time, the racial ideology of the Third Reich (which regarded human nature as a biological technology to be perfected) and the collectivist ideology of the communist totalitarianisms (which regarded human nature as a social and economic technology to be reconstructed).

No condition is more exhilaratingly liberating for all the most viciously despotic aspects of human character than an incapacity for astonishment or reverent incertitude before the mysteries of being; and mechanistic thinking is, to a very great extent, a training in just such an incapacity.

Spurgeon on Mosquitoes


About a week from the start of summer and our “state bird” has made its entrance in Minnesota and we are now well into the 108 day mosquito season. It reminds me of Charles Spurgeon, while traveling in Italy, writing to his wife one morning (Autobiography):

I awake grateful for another night’s peaceful rest, only to find myself very badly bitten by mosquitoes.

A mosquito is the most terrible of beasts. A lion delights in blood, but he does not suck it from living animals; he does not carefully prolong their tortures. A viper poisons, but he is generally content with one use of his fangs; but these small-winged serpents bite in scores of places in succession. My hands are a series of burning mountains.

The creatures are as nearly omnipresent as Satan, which means that, though a mosquito cannot be everywhere, yet no mortal can be sure that he is not near him, or tell where he is not. Curtains are a delusion, pastilles are a snare; the little enemies are irritated by such attempts to escape their malice, and give you double punishment.

O Italy! I have shed my blood for thy sake, and feel a love of thee (or something else) burning in my veins! The sooner I am away from thee, O fair Venice, the better, for thou dost deluge me by day, and devour me by night!

I wonder how my two companions have fared; I shall go, by-and-by, and look for their remains! I have opened my windows, and the pests are pouring in, eager and hungry; but, as I am up and dressed, there will be no more of me available for them at present.

Writing for Audiobook

Readers have asked why I use so many footnotes to house my biblical references, especially in 12 Ways. Without shame I’m a footnote guy. I also drop 90% of my biblical reference citations into the footnotes, using parenthetical verse references in the main text only for the passages I quote verbatim.

My thinking is less driven by the footnote/endnote debate, or page design preferences, and more driven by my concession to audiobooks. Many of my “readers” will be “listeners,” so dropping as much content into the footnotes allows me to script the text in a way that is just that — a script . . . a readable script.

Authors intentionally write for mediums beyond print. For example, it’s very obvious The Hunger Games series was written by an author (Suzanne Collins) with great expertise in video production. She was essentially writing out a movie plot in the form of a novel, all anticipating a series of movies in the end (which she delivered). This also explains why the books and movies are so identical, requiring very little interpretation. Similarly, I think there’s a way to write for the ear, and it simply by writing and editing verbally for script. Christianity of all groups treasures the long-term viability and beauty of the oral tradition, so writing for audiobook seems rather natural for us.

Now, obviously, a professional audiobook reader can read around non-verbal things in the text. But as an author I’m now resolved: anything silent in an audiobook I relegate out of the main body text and into footnotes. Exceptions of course include charts and graphs and images, things that can be easily skipped over by an audiobook reader anyways. Otherwise I want it in the footnotes. It’s there to be seen by the reader, and by me as I write and edit. Again, this helps me as the author of an audiobook more so than a necessity of the reader of the audiobook.

The psychology of authoring an audiobook is a dynamic I have only begun to understand and appreciate. With all this said, I think Tom Parks made fine work in reading of 12 Ways for Christianaudio. I wish I had time to read the book myself, and perhaps in the future I will do so. At this point my aim as a writer is to make books that are readable, whether it’s with me reading them or another reader.

Over the past couple of days I have been subjecting myself to listening to the 12 Ways audiobook, and I can hear things that I would change and improve (for example, I need to find better ways of audibly introducing new voices before quoting them). So my process is far from getting all figured out, but the process is in motion.

All this to say thank you Christianaudio for your work on 12 Ways. Copies of the CDs at my desk on Friday and they look great (save for the misspelt “forward” on the cover). And for those of you who are disappointed that I did not read this book myself — I’m sorry. I will more diligently pursue this in the future, Lord willing.